Mass Effect 3 [Interview] – The personal RPG

8 Feb 2012  by   Paul Younger
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Needless to say, a lot is expected from Mass Effect 3. Not only is it the final game in the trilogy of Commander Shepard, it’s the final game in a trilogy from which we’re promised our own endings to the plot and the characters involved. 
If BioWare can pull off an ending that feels personal to each player they will have performed a fine feat indeed. It’s that, among other things, that we talk to Mass Effect 3 producer Mike Gamble about.
In addition to this interview, we’ve got a hands-on preview of Mass Effect 3’s first 90 minutes.
IncGamers: Mass Effect 3 is the conclusion to a trilogy that has been enormously popular up to this point. Is it even possible to meet the expectations of your primary audience?
Mike Gamble: We’re certainly making a good attempt at it. Our goal is to provide a satisfying conclusion and give answers to the people that have invested in the series. In general I think that the players themselves had a hand in influencing those conclusions, because we do take into account the choices that you’ve made in previous games – the outcomes in this game will be dependent on those.
IG: Just how much do the choices players have in Mass Effect 1 and 2 affect the story in this game?
MG: Well, the ending is not predetermined – there are various endings and they all take feedback from how successful you were against the Reapers. Some of the conclusions to the various plots look at what you’ve done in the past and take those choices into account.
That’s extremely hard to do, because our writers have to plan for a number of different outcomes. Not only that, but they need to have appropriate and realistic endings for all of those outcomes. It takes a lot of time.

IG: How difficult is it to balance gameplay and story? Many RPGs suffer from an abundance of one and a lack of the other.
MG: It’s not too difficult really, so long as you stick to your core values. We want to be able to tell an emotionally engaging story. Sometimes the gameplay and shooting mechanics can add to that, and in Mass 3 I think they definitely do.
It’s not so such a balancing act, it’s more about making sure the two elements don’t step on each other’s toes.
IG: The first 90 minutes of the game is incredibly action heavy, is that a theme that runs throughout the game?
MG: It all depends on the mission. Some missions are very action heavy because it makes sense narratively and thematically.
Then there are the side missions which also have an effect on the overall story arc – particularly regarding how effective you are against the Reapers. I can’t compare directly to the previous two games, but there are certainly a lot of them.
IG: There has seemingly been a focus on accessibitly during those sections we’ve played – not least the option at the start of the game to have conversation sequences play as cutscenes or make combat extremely easy. Has accessibility been a big focus?
MG: The levels that you’ve seen have been from early on in the game, so the settings were still on ‘standard’ and designed to give you an idea of how to play the game. It’s important that we don’t assume that players have pre-existing knowledge of the gameplay and how the different systems work.
So, we wanted Mass Effect 3 to be as standalone as it could be for those players that haven’t played the franchise before. Everything is totally tweak-able in the options menu, though, so you can focus on a combat experience, an RPG experience or the traditional Mass Effect experience.

IG: Would you recommend someone playing this game without playing the previous two games?
MG: I definitely would. It is self-contained in the sense that, in the first scene, the Reapers attack and it’s quite clear from that point on what you have to do as Commander Shepard – you have to stop them.
There’s still a lot of information about the characters from the past and the setup to that moment, if you want to engage with it. All of that stuff from the past affects the story’s outcome but it’s not mandatory that you know it all to move forward and enjoy the game.
IG: Have there been any major changes to the combat?
MG: The primary gameplay changes that we’ve made have been to do with cover movement and being able to vertically traverse the battlefield – climbing up ladders and jumping down ledges, for example. Those things really affect how we can design our levels, because of the increased mobility.
Plus, each class has a variety of new powers and each of these can be evolved in a different way.
IG: Are there any differences between the console and PC editions?
MG: We try to develop all three platform editions (PS3, 360, PC) to be as similar as possible. We don’t take favourites – they’re all developed in-house and at the same time as one another. That allows us to make sure each platform is getting a game of equal quality.
Besides the standard high-resolution settings possible on a PC the game is the same. Rest assured that we support the PC as much as we support everything else – we realise DLC at the same time, any updates etc.

IG: Will we see further Mass Effect games after this one?
MG: This is the end of Shepard’s story, but we’ve developed too big of an IP for us to conclusively say that there will never be another Mass Effect – there are just too many stories that we could potentially tell. But it definitely wouldn’t be Shepard’s story if there was to be another game.
IG: Would BioWare always want to keep it in-house, or would they think of perhaps handing it to another developer that specialise in a different genre – i.e. with Halo Wars?
MG: I really can’t answer that I’m afraid.
IG: You’re including multiplayer, is that a trend we’re going to see from the majority of RPGs moving forward?
MG: No, I don’t think we will. I think that if a co-op play system works well with the rest of the game then it can add an enormous amount of value. If it doesn’t work for your game then don’t put it in. For Mass Effect 3 we put it in because we really wanted it, so we designed the game from the ground up to be able to support it.
IG: Why did you want to include it in the first place?
MG: It gives you the opportunity to finally play alongside your friends and experience another adventure that isn’t Shepard’s. The cool thing about the multiplayer is that you can play as the other alien races that you’ve previously seen but never been able to take control of.
IG: Does this really sum up all of the narrative trends that you’ve created through the two games so far?
MG: I can pretty conclusively say that the characters you’ve had experiences with in the previous game, and the plot arcs that have been started, are all resolved in Mass Effect 3. 

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